How investigators identified 29-year-old remains

EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU)— Investigators are getting closer to cracking a nearly 30-year-old cold case in Luzerne County.

Remains found back in 1994 have been identified. State police say Margaret Winniger’s remains were discovered along Tomhicken Road in Sugarloaf Township in December of 1994.

Due to the condition of the remains, a cause or manner of death could not be determined.

To solve the identity of Jane Doe state police had some help from a lab in Texas that specializes in solving cold cases like this one.

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“In this particular case, we know that the individual’s remains were found in 1994. At the time of discovery, the identity was unknown. This is not super uncommon depending upon the condition of remains,” said Colby Lasyone, director of operations at Othram.

Although Pennsylvania State Police were able to identify a gender, estimated age, and a facial reconstruction based on the remains, they were never able to put a name to their Jane Doe.

In May of 2023, PSP asked for the help of Othram Laboratories in Texas which specializes in cases that have gone cold.

“Othram works with the Pennsylvania State Police regularly, and in this particular case, Othram received forensic evidence in our laboratory and we developed a DNA profile,” Lasyone stated.

PSP provided extracted DNA from the remains, allowing Othram to use advanced testing that wasn’t available at the time of discovery.

Scientists created a genealogical profile by using what they call forensic-grade genome sequencing, a process created by Othram that helps them break through DNA barriers.

“Once that DNA profile was developed, it was released to the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania State Police used forensic genetic genealogy to develop new leads in the case,” Lasyone explained.

Eventually, state police were able to identify a possible relative to their Jane Doe.

After a DNA comparison, investigators were finally able to confirm the remains were those of Wininger, and PSP never forgot about the case.

“As with any cold case, members of the Pennsylvania State Police will never give up and always strive to conduct a thorough investigation, serving the people of this commonwealth to the highest level.”

Trooper Anthony Petroski

Although the remains have been identified, the investigation is far from over. Anyone who has any information about Winniger’s disappearance is asked to contact state police.

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